Rummaging on the Saturday market bric-a-brac stall I happened upon a biscuit tin of photos and postcards and riffled through, in search of treasure.

Two terrific group photos, one Edwardian or early twenties, and the other a works outing from the thirties. And, with one or two exceptions, they are all having a good old laugh. I imagine the first to be some kind of Christmas do, for no reason other than there being no natural light, and therefore a winter’s evening. They are all dressed up, with an array of morning suits, white ties and black ties, fancy frocks and so on, with not a hair out of place, and yet they still look a right scruffy bunch. But the best thing is that they almost all laughing, (apart from the girl in the white blouse, who may well be wishing she was anywhere else instead), with rosy cheeks and wide grins, some clearly guffawing. I also like the small group on the right, all distracted by something offstage.

The other group, all men, are sitting in front of a bus (a charabanc!) outside factory buildings, presumably the Greene King brewery in Bury St Edmunds (known as Berries and Edmunds, when my children were little). They’ve got an enormous flag and all set for what is surely the works beano. Flannels, clean white shirts (mostly tieless and unbuttoned at the top), the sharply creased slacks, and a wonderful collection of flat caps set in a bewildering variety of jaunty angles. My guess is that they are off to somewhere on the Suffolk coast – Southwold, or Aldeburgh perhaps. Or maybe to Hunstanton or Cromer on the north Norfolk coast? Better beer in Suffolk, mind. Either way, it’ll be a good few hours before they get there. Narrow twisting roads, in that bus – it’s not going to be quick! Plenty of time then for a singsong.

I also found these two, rather more solemn individuals – both printed as postcards from the early days of the last century. Are they Edwardians perhaps? There aren’t many clues so, as with the revellers, I’m judging this from their clothing.

I like him – there is something of the gamekeeper about him, not entirely comfortable, all scrubbed up and in his Sunday best for the photo. He is a little older, possibly greying at the side of his temples, and he has a fantastic nose – it’ll be enormous by the time he reaches his sixties.

As for earnest Blanche Rose (she has helpfully given us her name), she has extraordinary plaited hair coming out from under her hat and huge buttons on her dress. She is young, maybe 14, and has left a message to Tommy, which it is tempting to read far too much into. “Wishing you Good Luck and A Safe Return. From Blanche Rose.” The Blanche is underlined, and the Rose has been added on later, in green ink. Was Tommy a soldier? Did he return safely? Or was Tommy her brother, off on a more far more prosaic adventure – a walking holiday perhaps? And, given the afterthought of the added Rose, did it ever even reach Tommy, or did it forever remain in the hands of its author, who never quite plucked enough courage to send it? It doesn’t take much to turn these small clues into imagined lives.

Autumn, 1926


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